Police in Germany have said they expect more cocaine to flood into Europe after customs officers seized a record 3.8 metric tons of the drug from containers passing through the Port of Hamburg.
Discovered in three separate shipments brought into the country from South America between March and May, the cocaine is said to have had an estimated street value of some €800 million.
The drugs, which when tested were found to be up to 90% pure, were brought into the harbour concealed in shipping containers from Paraguay and Uruguay.
Customs officers showed off the haul, which was wrapped in brightly-coloured plastic packaging and guarded by heavily-armed police, during press conference last week before it was scheduled to be burned at a secret location.
Werner Gatzer, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Finance, said the seizures demonstrated the success of German customs official’s use of intelligent risk analysis and modern detection technology.
Gatzer said the volume of drugs seized indicated that the supply of cocaine being smuggled into Europe is growing.
A customs official said German authorities are working with their Dutch and Belgian counterparts, who both saw a significant uptick in cocaine busts at their ports in 2016.
German business newspaper Handelsblatt reported today that the amount of cocaine seized at Belgium’s Antwerp and the Dutch port of Rotterdam rose markedly last year, totalling a combined 41 tons.
Alwin Bogan, a spokesperson for Germany’s Central Customs Authority, said this trend is likely to continue, adding that a huge amount of cheap cocaine from South America will continue to flood the European market.
German authorities said the Hamburg seizures were the latest example of the rip-on/rip-off method, which involves traffickers concealing large quantities of drugs in legitimate shipments of goods without the knowledge the sender.
This method is often facilitated by corrupt customs officials and port employees, who help organised crime groups hide their drugs and retrieve them once they have arrived in their destination country.
Describing the method in a report published last year, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) said: “The so-called ‘rip-on/rip-off’ method involves loading the consignment in the port of departure and recovering it in the port of arrival.
“The use of one or more corrupt employees at both ends is therefore a key element.
“A suitable container must be identified in South America with a legitimate cargo destined for Europe.
“The drugs are usually loaded in the dock area, so the ‘rip-on’ team must be able to get the drugs into the container terminal and to locate the container, which must be in an accessible position…
“At the port of arrival, the drugs need to be retrieved, which can be achieved in a variety of ways.”